The Golden Eagles earned a share of their first Big East regular season championship with their second consecutive 14-4 conference record. As the No. 3 seed in the Big East Tournament, Buzz Williams’ squad was dispatched in their first game by a lower-seeded Notre Dame team. But it rebounded in the Big Dance, visiting the Sweet Sixteen for the third straight year before suffering an Elite Eight loss to Syracuse in Washington, D.C.
Despite coming off the program’s best season as a Big East member in 2011-12, most anticipated a rebuilding year as Buzz Williams sought to replace leading scorers Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. The Golden Eagles were tagged seventh at Big East Media Day (behind Pitt, Notre Dame and Cincinnati), while we here at the Big East microsite ranked them fifth (still behind the Irish and Bearcats) in what was perhaps our most glaring collective miscalculation.
The Golden Eagles surpassed everyone’s expectations, which in large part was attributable to the coaching abilities of Williams. Even with elite talent –– a luxury that Williams has never had –– nobody takes a program to three straight Sweet Sixteens without having a pretty good notion of what they’re doing. Vander Blue (14.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG) finally bloomed into the explosive scorer everyone expected him to be when he joined the program two years ago, becoming the team’s leading scorer while shooting 45% from the floor. Much in the way that Kadeem Batts developed in 2012-13, so too did Davante Gardner (11.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG) fashion himself into a trustworthy asset on both ends of the floor, becoming one of the best free throw-shooting big men in the league.